Local News Taps Into Cable VOD

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When the local news anchor sings out, “Welcome to live, local news at 6 p.m.,” on some TV sets, the clock in a viewer's living room might actually read 6:48 p.m. or 10:22 p.m. Viewers in about a dozen markets are watching local news on their own schedules as local broadcasters partner with cable operators to deliver news through video-on-demand (VOD) services.

For stations, delivering news on-demand suits Americans' changing lifestyles. People are working more hours and facing longer commutes, making it difficult to catch the early-evening news live. And, as exhausted viewers nod off earlier at night, the audience available for late news is dwindling, too. VOD is a way to snag those off-schedule viewers and rerun news programming, which, like yesterday's newspaper, has no value after its original play.

Local broadcasters in large and midsize markets are experimenting. In Los Angeles, the second-largest Nielsen market, KNBC supplies its newscasts to Time Warner Cable. Buckeye Cable offers news from NBC affiliate WNWO to subscribers in Toledo, Ohio, the 70th-largest market. Comcast Cable, which most aggressively pushes VOD uses, works with stations in a dozen markets, including hometown Philadelphia, Baltimore and Minneapolis.

For cable operators, VOD fare such as free local news is a way to entice subscribers to buy pricey digital packages and keep those subscribers from defecting to satellite providers. VOD programming is stored on local servers and dispatched almost instantly when a subscriber selects a program; it's technology satellite can not provide.

Some local broadcasters are wary of VOD. Stations risk cannibalizing their own audiences and, as a result, their advertising rates. Others have embraced it. WCVB Boston President/GM Paul La Camera says TV stations need to keep up with changing technology. “People thought I was a fool to give away my product, but I think of it as an extension of my brand,” he says. “This is a different era, and we have to try some different things.” WCVB, an ABC affiliate, works with Comcast to deliver an expansive on-demand roster that includes several newscasts and its nightly local newsmagazine Chronicle.

The menu of news varies by market. In San Francisco, CBS-owned KPIX provides only its 6:30 p.m. news to Comcast's on-demand lineup. In Salt Lake City and Denver, the cable operator partners with as many as three stations. KCNC Denver, a CBS O&O, supplies four daily newscasts, as well as telecasts of high school sports. “We will continue to expand the content,” says station VP/GM Walt DeHaven.

So far, however, stations do not have much information on who is watching. Nielsen doesn't rate video-on-demand yet, although it is developing a system. Without ratings, stations aren't yet charging advertisers for the exposure on VOD. Newscasts on-demand carry the same spots as live broadcasts, so advertisers enjoy the second play for free.

Cable operators can provide stations with some basic usage information. In Salt Lake City, for example, Comcast tells ABC affiliate KTVX how often its shows are being downloaded, although not by whom. Of the station's on-demand fare, daily lifestyle show Good Things Utah is the most frequently ordered. “It tells us how we are progressing,” says VP/GM Steve Spendlove. “On-demand is in its infancy, but we're giving viewers another way to participate in our product.”

Send station news to aromano@reedbusiness.com

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